By Rich Arleo
CBS Local Sports, in our 30 Players 30 Days spring training feature, profiles one young player from each Major League Baseball team leading up to opening day.
2016 season (Minors): 13 G, 13 GS, 83 IP, 1.30 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 7 W, 92 SO, 12 BB
2016 season (Majors): 9 G, 8 GS, 36 1/3 IP, 5.70 ERA, 1.60 WHIP, 1 W, 45 SO, 12 BB
Hailed as a possible option for the St. Louis Cardinals’ Opening Day rotation early on this Spring Training, Luke Weaver was optioned to Minor League camp on March 18 after a minor injury and a few spotty performances. Despite the setback, the Cardinals’ No. 3 prospect (MLB.com rankings) still has his sights on locking down a spot later on in the year.
Selected 27th overall by St. Louis in the ‘14 draft, Weaver began to hit his stride for Class A Advanced Palm Beach in ‘15. In 19 starts that season he won eight games with a 1.62 ERA and 1.11 WHIP. He was invited to Spring Training last year and things were looking up before a freak accident hit and he broke his left (non-throwing) wrist shagging fly balls.
Weaver didn’t make his first start until June 5 last year, but he made up for his time missed by dominating in his first action at Double-A with a 1.40 ERA and 10 K/9 in 12 starts. He was called up to Triple-A and allowed two hits in six scoreless innings in his only start before the Cardinals made a call. With Michael Wacha hurt, general manager John Mozeliak turned to Weaver as a rotation replacement.
On Aug. 13, Weaver made his MLB debut against division rivals and the eventual World Series champion Chicago Cubs. The right-hander gave up two runs on four hits with three strikeouts, throwing 85 pitches in four innings. Weaver hit his stride two starts later, striking out seven in six one-run innings to complete his first quality start. Beginning with that outing, he went on a run in four starts, giving up seven runs and striking out 30 in 22 innings (2.86 ERA) while holding batters to a .213 average. Unfortunately, he hit a wall to end the year and gave up 17 runs (11 earned) in just 5 1/3 innings over his final three appearances.
While his ERA to end the year wasn’t pretty, Weaver did show effectiveness at the big league level. According to PITCHf/x data, his fastball clocked in at an average of 92 miles per hour in his stint with the Cards last year. He can get his fastball to sit around 94 mph and it has reached 98 before. Weaver’s secondary pitch, a changeup that has earned a 65 scout rating, clocked in at 83 mph on PITCHf/x. He also relies on what PITCHf/x registers as a cutter but Weaver calls a hybrid slider — saying he has two ways to throw the pitch. There’s also a curveball in the arsenal, and Weaver will need to develop at least one of these pitches into a third weapon behind the fastball and changeup in order to have continued success in the Majors.
When news broke in February that young phenom Alex Reyes needed Tommy John surgery and would miss the entire year, many eyes turned to Weaver, and rightfully so. He started out in the thick of the competition for the fifth spot in the rotation, but then missed time with back spasms and struggled in his first start back before getting optioned. With Wacha having a strong Spring and Lance Lynn returning after missing all of last year due to TJ surgery, the Cardinals had options and the decision was relatively easy. Considering Lynn and Wacha’s recent issues, the likelihood of there being a spot for Weaver in the rotation relatively soon is good and fans should expect to see him back with the Cardinals at some point this year.
Rich Arleo is a freelance sports writer and editor who covers Major League Baseball and fantasy sports. You can follow him on Twitter, @Rarleo.